Bali - crisis management put to the test

Swiss tourists are being advised not to travel to Indonesia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Congo

The Swiss government has reacted quickly to Saturday's terror attack in Bali, which reportedly killed three Swiss and injured six others.

This content was published on October 14, 2002 - 19:16

Of the 400 Swiss citizens currently holidaying on the Indonesian island only a handful have chosen to cut short their stay and fly home.

The attack on a popular nightclub in the resort of Kuta shocked the world and was met with widespread condemnation.

Indonesia has been racked with infighting for the past decade, but few people expected the holiday island of Bali to be a terrorist target.

"One should expect things to happen, tragic things... but Bali was not on a danger list. It was always considered a safe place," Georges Martin, the Swiss ambassador to Indonesia told swissinfo

Crisis management in Jakarta

As the news about Saturday's car bombing broke, a "tried and tested" procedure of crisis management came to the fore. It is based on the principles of consular protection and travel advice and has been finely tuned over the years.

"After the terrorist attack in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997, consular protection has been strengthened. We also post travel advice country by country on our Internet site," Livio Zanolari, a spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry, told swissinfo.

Jakarta headquarters

In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, the Swiss ambassador, Georges Martin, met his aides and followed guidelines laid out in a crisis management manual.

"We have a small booklet [about best practice reaction]," Martin told swissinfo. "We try to recall it on a regular basis to train for an [event]."

The booklet outlines what to do in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Martin says the procedure is the same for every eventuality and that the most important thing is to react quickly and efficiently in the hours following the event.

"At the beginning you don't have a lot of time, so you have to be prepared," he explains. "Everyone needs to know exactly what to do. You need to get someone [to the scene] as soon as possible."

In the minutes following the attack, the Swiss honorary consul in Bali, Joe Zürcher, a Swiss man who has lived on the island for many years, was at the scene. He worked through the night to determine if any Swiss nationals had been killed or injured and fed the information back to Jakarta, which passed it onto Bern.

"We are permanently in contact with the Foreign Ministry in Bern co-ordinating our position," Martin says. "It's very important that no family hears on the radio or reads in the newspapers that something bad has happened to one of [their relatives]."

Rega on hand

Aside from diplomacy, Switzerland has also lent a helping hand in the form of Rega, the Swiss air rescue service.

Early on Monday morning, a Rega air ambulance took off from Zurich airport headed for Singapore. Many of the critically injured victims, including two Swiss women, were transferred from Bali to Singapore for treatment. One Swiss was to be flown home on Wednesday.

The other's condition is still too dangerous for her to take the 14-hour flight. "It depends on the condition of the patients, who have to be stable for such a long flight," Gabriella Brogli from Rega told swissinfo.

But she emphasised that Rega was very willing to help. "We are always ready [to act]" and we will be ready in the event of another attack but "of course we hope that will not happen."

Citizen advice

Although another attack cannot be ruled out, Martin says there is no need for extra security at the Swiss embassy. Likewise the government has not advised Swiss nationals to leave Indonesia.

"We are advising Swiss citizens to stay at home [or in their hotels/resorts] and to keep a low profile," he told swissinfo.

But some 400 Swiss are happy to stay put and enjoy their vacation in Bali.

Hotelplan, one of the leading Swiss tour operators, has 169 guests on the island. The company also has 50 "flight-only" guests in Bali, none of whom have contacted the operator.

TUI Suisse, another tour operator, has 140 customers in Bali, while Kuoni has 81 tourists on the island, seven of whom have chosen to come home straight away.

Hotelplan and Kuoni both announced on Monday that guests could cancel any holidays to Bali free of charge until mid-November. But it is still business as usual.

"Bali is a major holiday destination for us during the winter months," Peter Spring from Hotelplan told swissinfo.

On Monday, shares in many tour operators and airlines took a tumble, with the German carrier, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways all clocking losses. The national airline, swiss was one of the worst affected with an 11 per cent drop in the share price during the day's trading. However shares closed at SFr 31 after a daytime low of SFr29.

swissinfo, Sally Mules

Key facts

The bomb went off shortly before midnight local time on Saturday night.
More than 180 people - including at least one Swiss - were killed in the blast.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

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In brief

Many of those killed in the blast were young foreign tourists on vacation.

Indonesian police have described the attack as the "worst act of terror" in the country's history.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, condemned the nightclub attack "in the strongest possible terms", while the United States denounced it as a "despicable act of terror".

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